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> > > BBC Imagine: Turning the Art World Inside Out

25 November 2013

image of a saucer-shaped spaceship by Ionel Talpazan made using bright blues and reds

Ionel Talpazan 'Mistery & Misticism' 2003 mixed media on board 20 x 30 ins. Image courtesy Henry Boxer Gallery (www.outsiderart.co.uk)

The latest in Alan Yentob’s ‘Imagine’ series on BBC One attempted to examine how we define ‘Outsider Art’ asking “Why in 2013 is Outsider Art finally being feted by the art establishment, and what took it so long?” Michelle Kopczyk gives a critical analysis of how the programme failed to provide answers.

The programme explores the label ‘Outsider Art’ in contemporary terms through interviews with a small number of artists, curators, and gallery owners from across the globe.

It starts by asking people the question ‘What is Outsider Art?’ and no one can define it. The private life of the artist Carlo Zinelli is profiled to help answer the question. Zinelli was a farmer who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and returned shell shocked. Zinelli’s work was shown at the 2013 Venice Biennale by the Museum of Everything. People at the Biennale were interviewed, and agreed that it was good that the Biennale included marginalised artists alongside accepted artists.

Throughout the programme contemporary ‘Outsider’ artists are profiled to demonstrate what Outsider art is, such as, a Japanese sculptor who is autistic and an exhibitor at the Biennale; artists with developmental disabilities making art in group centres and selling it abroad; artists with psychiatric disorders who live and work in support homes where private life is managed and kept separate from their thriving art practice.

We also meet Joe Coleman, a painter, who identifies as an Outsider artist but is banned from exhibiting at Outsider art fairs because he sells his work at high prices to earn a living. Conversely, Henry Boxer, an art dealer, is interviewed and says New York based artist Ionel Talpazan shot himself in the foot by selling his work on the street for cheap, instead of holding off until he (Boxer) could sell it at a higher price. The conclusion seems to be that the art market punishes Talpazan because he is poor and curators punish Coleman because he is not.

The narrator Alan Yentob says “these artists, people with developmental disabilities, psychiatric disorders, untrained ability, who are poor… create and inhabit their own worlds with such conviction it becomes recognisable to us – we are invited to step inside”. The programme closes with an inexplicable animation of Yentob walking as selected artwork from the programme whirls around him.

What may have begun as an innocent attempt to categorise art has turned into a label that further ostracises artists. For instance, women-only art shows reinforce the idea of ‘other’ thus create assumptions of what the artwork is going to be about. Labels like ‘Outsider’ reinforce theories of ‘disability’.

Theories are fluid because they are rooted in systems of belief, and belief is a combination of experience, ignorance and prejudice. This explains why artists like Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec are not treated as Outsider artists—Van Gogh had a psychiatric disorder, Toulouse-Lautrec had a physical disability—the popularity of their work supersedes their private lives. Their work is labelled ‘great art’, which is a norm; they cannot be labelled as ‘other’, it is an oxymoron.

The programme would have been much more interesting if it explored the nexus of experience and creativity, a connection that is not adequately understood, along with our compulsion to categorise and label what we do not understand and treat as ‘Other’ by contrasting the situation between Joe Coleman and Ionel Talpazan.

Please click on this link to BBC One's 'Imagine' to see

Comments

Vivi-Mari Carpelan

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31 January 2014

I don't mean to upset anyone. I find myself caught somewhere in the middle between the extreme groups that seem to get a lot of charitable support at the moment. I responded to the fact that the TV show was mostly highlighting people with serious psychiatric disorders and based on my own personal experience have to question whether people with a normal level of sanity are welcome or not. I couldn't even get a grant from arts council cymru because I was deemed as "too articulate" and my body of work was too great. It's possible that i just happened to witness an award ceremony at Outside In that seemed to include only a specific kind of people (I was there). Perhaps it was coincidental. I don't really want to go into more details as I'm just likely to be misunderstood.

Michelle Kopczyk

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28 November 2013

What I find most interesting is that Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were both ridiculed during their lifetime, and later revered and today we still use minoritizing labels to describe artists, where their artwork is secondary. It would be much more interesting to talk about the art and its impact on the external world.

On different note, I like Outside In because it has created an inroad for artists who are not savvy at marketing their work and ideas.

Colin Hambrook

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28 November 2013

I think one of the interesting distinctions that Alan Yentob made in Imagine… was that whereas the majority of artists whose work you'll find in major galleries are following a lineage of art-historical context - artists from the Outsider Art world are largely following their own dictates, single-handedly creating self-referential Art Movements - i.e. work that has developed from a singular imagination.

The whole notion of being 'outside' or being 'inside' is problematic. Human beings are creative. It's what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. From my experience and understanding Art Schools rather encourage knowledge of Art History, rather than 'creativity' as a force and a value in and of itself.

Colin Hambrook

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28 November 2013

I disagree about the Outside In having a bias towards choosing award winners who are "people with psychiatric disorders, preferably from closed wards." It's frankly insulting to suggest that "having a psychiatric disorder" is a category for receiving an Outside In Award. In fact only extremely rarely will you see reference to an Outside In award-winner as having had a 'psychiatric diagnosis'.

Outside In seeks to put the emphasis on 'creativity' and 'expression' rather than on an artists' ability to posit their work within the conventional art-historical framework.

From my experience, having followed many of the Award-winners, the artists' personal circumstances rarely inform the exhibitions they produce.

Just google the OI Award-winner Kate Bradbury who is currently on exhibition at Pallant House. You'll find statements that underpin her status as a 'self-taught artist' - and you'll find descriptions of her work, materials and process.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan

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27 November 2013

Oh, and of course - the question that concerns me most is whether I myself qualify as an outsider artist. I was welcomed to Outside In but I also have a sneaking suspiscion that not everyone agrees with this because my background is too sophisticated and I might have been "ruined" by too much participation in society in the past.

However my current circumstances seem to indicate that this is no longer possible, because of a chronic illness and extreme poverty. If you consider the kind of artists who get the awards, there's definitely a "trend" and bias towards people with psychiatric disorders, preferably from closed wards.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan

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27 November 2013

Good to hear about this programme, must check it out. Very interesting viewpoints, must ponder this more. Surely all good artists meet criteria to do with conviction and ardour? > "The narrator Alan Yentob says 'these artists, people with developmental disabilities, psychiatric disorders, untrained ability, who are poor… create and inhabit their own worlds with such conviction it becomes recognisable to us – we are invited to step inside'."

I'm not sure many artists can exist outside of the influence of society, such art is a very rare thing and is therefore gradually becoming subject of investments. That's probably the closest we can come to a definition of "real" outsider art, however there aren't enough such artists, is there? It's definitely not always people with psychiatric disorders! I think this misconception isn't helpful to other artists with other reasons for not being able to participate fully in society.

Henry Boxer

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25 November 2013

The point I was making was that Ionel could have become far more successful and therefore had his life and living circumstances improved enormously, if he had allowed a dealer like myself, or Aarne Anton, who had also shown Ionel's wonderful work, to market his drawings appropriately.

Hopefully this program will help Ionel sell more work and gain greater recognition. He is a sweet sweet man and deserves it.

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